Wichita County residents get answers about jail bond

WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - Wichita County residents got some answers about a big proposition on the May ballot, the jail bond Monday night at a public hearing

Talk of a new jail has been a hot topic for commissioners for years, and now details on the $70 million jail bond and the potential new facility were unlocked.

If passed the bond would raise county property taxes. How much will be based on current interest rates. Somewhere between 5-and-three-quarters and six-and-three-quarter cents.

However, Sheriff Duke was quick to point out there are some things you cannot put a price tag on, like the safety of the people who work at the jail and the inmates.

"These are somebodies sons, brothers, fathers, mothers or sisters," said Sheriff Duke. "So we have to take care of these people."

He said maintaining a safe and secure environment for inmates is his top priority, and with the current facility it is tough to do. He said that is why a new jail is not a want but a need.

One of the major issues is where inmates are booked in. With little room to operate and hold inmates sometimes law enforcement has to wait six to seven hours just to get them in.

"If you have 10 to 15 officers or deputies in there that means you're not getting an officer that's patrolling your neighborhood or responding to your 911 call anytime soon unless you have another agency covering," said Sheriff Duke.

Another problem is having two separate facilities. Sheriff Duke said housing all inmates in one location will save them $50,000 a year on transfer costs.
He admits the jail has a lot of flaws, and although $70 million is not cheap, he said it will help the county save when it comes to maintenance.

"If the bond election goes through that will take care of problems for another 50 years," said Sheriff Duke.

Those who came out to the public meeting got to see first hand the proposal presented by HOK Architects' and Harper Perkins Architects, a local arch firm.

Their plan is for a new jail to be located near the Sprague Annex.

"The two facilities you have now are extremely deficient. They are archaic in design," said Jeff Bradley, HOK's Global Director. "They are not a safe environment."

Bradley said a lot of research went into the process. Like touring the facilities, getting info from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and working with the commissioners and Sheriff's Office. The architects even looked at multiple options like renovating the current facility and building downtown.

Bradley believes there are a number of things people will like about this design like the financial savings of constructing a brand new building. 

"The county itself is going to save well over $30 million," said Bradley

He said building the new facility near the Sprague Annex versus downtown Wichita Falls will save the county about $14-million alone.

James Hicks who lives in Wichita Falls was at Monday night's meeting and said he loves the proposal of the new jail because it is necessary.

"I've been out there a few times, and it's a nightmare it really is," said Hicks.

Hicks told the commissioners he is concerned about not having a plan B and is concerned about the $70 million price tag.

He said he hopes it is cost-efficient and that Wichita County residents get what we pay for.

Judge Woody Gossom said as for a plan B the county would have to re-do the jails they have now. Adding that option would cost more because of having to move inmates.

If the jail bond does pass the county can expect the building and site design to begin in June and wrap up in February of 2018.

The bidding and permitting process will pick up in March of next year and construction would be finished in February of 2020.

Another public meeting will be held next Monday, April 17th at 6 p.m.

Commissioners also plan on having another one that morning so it can be live streamed online.

Both the meetings will be in the 30th District Court at the Wichita County Courthouse.

Copyright 2017 KAUZ All Rights Reserved